FriendlyJordies schools the masses in “A Tale As Old As Rome”

FriendlyJordies onstage at the Baroque Room, Katoomba during his live show, "A Tale As Old As Rome". Photo: Corin Shearston.

Review: A Tale As Old As Rome by Friendly Jordies, Baroque Room, Katoomba – Thursday, 26 May, 2022. Reviewed by youth editor Corin Shearston.
★★★★

The poster for FriendlyJordies’ latest live show, A Tale As Old As Rome. Image: Oztix.

As a packed crowd hushes and the lights dim, a tall, handsome and charismatic young man suddenly peeps around a side stage curtain with a cheeky glance. He strides onto the stage to rapturous applause, and so begins an unorthodox, hour-long comedic show backed by a PowerPoint presentation. FriendlyJordies (real name Jordan Shanks-Markovina) proceeds to discuss scholarly researched societal injustices from the days of Ancient Rome to 1880s Britain, to the present day.

All the while, a slideshow of “dodgy Photoshop” images accompany the edgy humour that flows forth, as witty digs are doles out to contemporary celebrities, politicians and members of the press. These are enhanced by a range of his different voices, references to Von Dutch hats and an explanation of when anime shows begin to feel “too Japanese’: “[When there’s] some chick playing around with an alien squirrel and you’re thinking, “What the fuck?’ and then it suddenly hits you, “Oh, it’s another metaphor for Hiroshima.“”

A frame from Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind from Studio Ghibli, pictured in FriendlyJordies’ show, complete with small ‘alien squirrel’. Image: IFC Center.

This melding of dark abstract absurdism and insightful political education characterises the latest show from YouTuber/journalist/political commentator/former model Jordan Shanks, AKA FriendlyJordies. It’s titled A Tale As Old As Rome and it took three years for him to create.

Last Thursday, it was time for the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba to attend his ‘classroom’ in the Carrington Hotel’s Baroque Room for a show promoted as “not for the easily offended”. In a stand-up style harking back to the charisma, subtle madness and facial expressions of 1980s Jim Carrey, Shanks had our minds reeling and our throats sore from laughter amidst a sense of poignancy over historical tragedies.

Some of the crowd at FriendlyJordies Katoomba show. Photo: Corin Shearston.

Fortunately, the style of his YouTube videos translates well to the stage, complete with a rapid-fire series of funny images, aforementioned strange accents and voices, and his trademark energy. Shanks is a seasoned touring comedian and it shows.

Favourite characters in his ‘presentation’ included Roman emperors Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius, controversial footballer John Hopoate and various old Greek men, while protagonists ranged from One Nation’s Mark Latham and Pauline Hanson (“the chick from I Love Lucy”), to actor Chris Tucker, real estate agents, Pol Pot, The Sydney Morning Herald and the entirety of the Liberal Party.

Shanks’ razor sharp opinions and persuasive rhetoric have landed FriendlyJordies in legal hot water with the likes of former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro, and United Australia Party’s Clive Palmer, whose reputations were savaged in long videos on his YouTube channel.

In June 2021, Shanks’ producer Kristo Langker was arrested at his home in Dulwich Hill and charged with allegedly stalking and intimidating Barilaro, leading Langker to consider a civil case against the NSW Police in March after the charges were dropped.

Shanks’ YouTube channel currently has over 625,000 subscribers. It’s his endearing sense of integrity as a political commentator which has allowed him to interview the likes of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek. He’s currently praising new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and labelling current Liberal Leader Peter Dutton a “boofhead”.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and FriendlyJordies in one of their latest conversations, in a YouTube video published on 9 March, 2022, titled ‘Kevin Rudd Exposes Scomo’s Dirty Tricks’. Photo: FriendlyJordies/YouTube.

Moving away from the realm of adolescent humour, two of the best points Shanks made throughout the entire show were as follows: “History is written by the losers of the victors” (a reference most journalists who work in the mainstream press) and “What is today’s newspaper other than tomorrow’s archive?” 

“What is today’s newspaper other than tomorrow’s archive?”

– Jordan Shanks-Markovina, AKA Friendly Jordies

When the latter quote failed to generate the type of response he was hoping for, Shanks retorted, “Well, I thought that was one of the cleverest things I’ve ever said.” Keeping things irreverent, he proceeded to ask, “Does this make you think?”, before showing us a Photoshopped picture of the head of singer and TV personality Sophie Monk from Love Island atop the body of a monkey: “Sophie Monkey”. 

“Gotta be genetically splicing [Sophie Monkey] into reality,” Shanks said. “So I have two streams of passive income … one for which she hosts Love Island, [then I’m] gonna keep her in Bali for the rest of the year to steal sunglasses off of tourists.” 

The style of this drastic non-sequitur typified the comedy in his show. Shanks even pulled a fake rubber penis out of his pants (it momentarily fooled us into thinking it was real) which generated some cheap shock value for this popular provocateur, treading a similar line as Sacha Baron Cohen and Ricky Gervais.

An example of one of the absurd images seen at FriendlyJordies’ Katoomba show on 26 May, 2022.
Photo: Corin Shearston.

As the show was largely grounded in history, one fact that stuck was that after the fall of the colossal Western Roman Empire (which stretched from modern day England to Egypt and completely surrounded the Mediterranean Sea) in 476 AD, it took over 1,800 years for any European civilisation to reach the level of advancement that Rome had at its peak. Shanks explained: “The next city to reach that level in Europe was London in 1810 … it took the invention of the steam engine to get civilisation back to that level.” 

What also surprised this reviewer at least, was how much Caesar did for his people during his two year emperorship, and how his military tactics are still taught to this day. “Caesar created the Pax Romana, the longest stretch of prosperity in European history, by a mile,” Shanks explained. For the population of Rome to reach over one million, “that took extremely sophisticated urban planning and a bunch of disciplines that just went nowhere”, he argued. 

History lessons aside, irreverence was the hallmark of the show, with Shanks stating: “If CEOs are your cream of the crop, journalists are your two litres Coles milk, which makes historians out-of-date milk, because they’re the same people.”

He revealed much spite against the press during his presentation, due to constantly being targeted by mainstream papers in acts of “character assassination”. Shanks referenced a headline that compared him to Mark Latham, before drawing attention to a VICE Australia headline that claimed he had compared Triple J to the group responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994. 

One of the controversial news headlines on display at FriendlyJordies’s show. Photo: Corin Shearston.

In referencing the sensitive subject of genocide, Shanks noted the 2010 book The Politics of Genocide by D.J. Peterson and Edward S. Herman – authors who believe that genocide is a tool used to create social cohesion. This depth of knowledge represented the wild spectrum of information on offer throughout the show. 

In conclusion to his insights about the actions of Caesar, Shanks made a brilliant point, basically stating that powerful people who take the side of lawmakers and politicians will live a long life and be revered as pious, but they’ll be buried in tombs that will be as empty as their words. Those who take the side of the people might live a short life and make many enemies, and might be buried in a dirt grave, but people will respect them and lay flowers at their graves for millennia.

Julius Caesar’s grave in the Roman Forum, a large rock that his body was cremated upon shortly after his murder in 44 BC. Photo: sblinn/Flickr.

At the end of his show, Shanks explained how he was moved by learning more about Caesar’s achievements and untimely death, which led him to contact friends to ask who might be planning a trip to Rome. Upon asking, his first video producer told him she’d be travelling to Rome in a week, and proceeded to send Shanks a video of herself laying flowers on Caesar’s grave, a large crematory rock covered in tributes. 

Thus, he expertly proved his point, before leaving us cheering as he walked casually off stage. He certainly triumphed on this night in Katoomba. Even if he lovingly roasted the town as being “a little bit homeless”.

Keep up the good work, Jordies.

Friendly Jordies’ live show, A Tale As Old As Rome, is currently touring Australia, with shows scheduled through to late August. For information and tickets, visit https://www.friendlyjordies.com/live-show.

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

For further news, features, reviews, interviews, opinion, podcasts and more, visit https://sydneysentinel.com.au. You can also like/follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.